by Jim Benjaminson; part of the Illustrated Plymouth & DeSoto Buyer's Guide
Three years earlier, it had seemed so simple to say “Suddenly, it’s 1960!” Suddenly, it was1960.
The ’57s had been both a styling and engineering coup of no small proportions. ’58 and ’59 had been lackluster years in comparison. The question was, could Plymouth stage another coup that it so badly needed? Or would it find itself “out-finned” by its own excesses? In the long run, it was a little bit of both.
Cadillac had shown everyone what fins were all about with its ’59 models, even though Chrysler Corporation now called them “stabilizers,” supposedly serving a useful purpose at keeping the car straight at high speeds—a claim that was highly suspicious.
Underneath, the 1960 Plymouth was a totally new car—powered by, in the case of the sixes, a completely new engine. The only problem was, it just didn’t look like a new car. To many, it was too much—too late. Virgil Exner had been praised for his designs of the 1955 through 1958 Plymouths. ’59’s restyle had not been not very well received, but for 1960, Exner’s renderings were beginning to turn sour—with worse yet to come.
Chrysler Corporation unveiled unibody construction across the board (save Imperial). Chrysler had done unibody construction back in the 1930s, with its Airflows; the body was framed like a bridge truss, made up of box section rails that extended upward from the sills, outlining windows alongside the roof before descending to a foundation near the rear wheel openings. 5,400 welds held the frameless vehicle together.
Plymouth claimed 100% greater body rigidity and 40% greater beam strength, with the girders which provided that strength touted as being 75% heavier than those used in conventional construction—stronger, still lighter in weight. There was still a subframe bearing the engine and Torsion-Aire suspension that bolted to the otherwise unitized body.
Before the body panels were welded together, the seams were shot with a special welding sealer designed to expand under the heat of drying ovens where the body was placed after painting. A drawback of any unitized construction was that no sound-insulating material could isolate the body from frame and road noise; to counter this, Plymouth developed extra-large rear spring bushings, a new exhaust system hanger, and a driveshaft redesigned to reduce high speed hum. Special sound-deadening fiber matting and liquid-applied coatings were the final steps.
Six chemical sprays and seven chemical dips plus four coats of paint ensured rust would not be a problem in the frameless vehicle. The cars were advertised as “Solid.” Barely any piece of literature failed to mention the word “Solid”—with the cars invariably photographed against backgrounds of steel girders, bridges, or other examples of engineered strength. Rust was a word Plymouth didn't want to hear—especially in light of the fact the fabulous ’57s, which had garnered so much good publicity, were now ill-thought of buckets of rust.
Revolutionary construction was coupled with evolutionary styling, perhaps to avoid shocking customers. Sticking with the tried-and-true finned silhouette, the ’60 Plymouth relied on other gimmicks, such as hooded headlamps whose brow wrapped around the corner of the fender and swept back behind the front-wheel cutout. The same general wheel cutout shape was carried over the rear wheel, but in a more subdued manner.
Fury continued the eyebrow stainless trim around the front wheel, along the bottom of the car to the rear wheel, where the trailing edge was fitted with a stainless panel—á la the 1959 Ford Galaxie 500. Belvederes and Savoys had to settle for broad expanses of otherwise plain sheet metal. And then there were the fins, towering higher (or so it seemed) than ever before and looking for all the world like last minute add-ons. Many people wondered aloud what the car would look like without them—they would have to wait one year to find out.
The razor-thin roofline that gave GM stylists such fits in ’57 continued, only now with a heavy C pillar that cut forward, emulating the wheel cutouts. Optional on the two-door hardtop was a Ski-Hi rear window that rose to give rear-seat passengers a virtual sun roof—for baking! Costing only $23, it should have been mandatory to include the $43 tinted glass option.
The 1960 Plymouth returned to a three model lineup, the Sport Fury disappearing from the catalog. At the bottom of the list was the Savoy in two- or four-door sedan. In the middle was the Belvedere in two door, four door, or two-door hardtop. The top of the line Fury came in a four-door sedan, four-door hardtop, two-door hardtop, and convertible. Station wagons carried their own names, corresponding in trim levels to the passenger car as the Deluxe, Custom, and Sport Suburban.
A fourth line of cars, known as Fleet Specials, were offered specifically for taxi and high-use commercial applications. Police packages (the first had come in 1957) included the Patroller Six, Patroller Special V8, and for highway patrol use, the Pursuit Special V8. In years to come, Chrysler would dominate the police car market, supplying fully 80% of the nation's police vehicles. During the halcyon muscle car days, no finer compliment was paid police cars than calling them “four-door Road Runners.”
Passenger cars all rode on a 118-inch wheelbase (still a half inch shorter than the ’49-52 Plymouth!). The wagons were built on a 122-inch chassis shared with the other corporate wagons.
At long last, a new up-to-date, overhead-valve six replaced the tired 27-year-old flathead. Displacing 170 or 225 cubic inches, the engine sat at a 30-degree angle to the right (to fit under the low-slung Valiant hood), and soon affectionately became known as the Slant Six.
The layout allowed a long intake manifold with individual tubes running back to each cylinder—an unusual and unique sight in 1960; this provided a small “ram air” effect, boosting power at some engine speeds.
Only the larger 225 was used in Dodge and Plymouth full-size cars and Dodge commercial vehicles.
Other engine choices included the Fury V800, the base two-barrel with 318 cubic inches, Fury V800 with Super Pak (four barrel, 260 horsepower), and the Golden Commando 395, the 361-cubic-inch B block pumping out 305 horses. For the performance enthusiast something new had been added—the SonoRamic Golden Commando—a 383-cubic-inch, 330-horsepower, dual-quad carbureted, cross-ram manifold monster.
Popping the hood of a SonoRamic Golden Commando-powered car was an experience few would forget. Long aluminum castings rising up and over the valve covers pumped fuel from two Carter four-barrel carbs to the engine—the carb on the right side feeding the left bank of cylinders, the carb on the left feeding the right bank. Each ram manifold measured 30 inches from carburetor venturi to intake valve. At 2800 rpm the manifold would reach its maximum effect as the speed-of-sound waves gave a mild supercharging effect. The engine was awesome to look at and words can’t describe its actual performance. It was an expensive engine to produce and a challenge to keep in tune—and it would only last two years. (A modified shorter ram would be available to drag racers for years to come.)
Transmission choices continued as in previous years, although a heavy-duty manual transmission was coupled to higher-horsepower engines. Both the two-speed PowerFlite and three-speed TorqueFlite were continued as well.
When the first two Volkswagen Beetles were imported into the U.S. in 1949, most people laughed. By the late 1950s the Big Three had begun to take the small-car market seriously, rushing into production for the 1960 model year. Chevrolet spewed forth the radical, rear-engined, air-cooled opposed-six Corvair while Ford chose the moderate path of the Falcon. Chrysler Corporation’s answer was the “Corporate” Valiant—an Exner designed car—in the European look—of unusual proportions, featuring an odd assortment of curves and angles.
Valiants began coming off Dodge's Hamtramck assembly line in September of 1959. Ads boasted Valiant was “Nobody’s Kid Brother,” which it truly wasn’t. No single division of the corporation would lay claim to the new car, causing a franchising problem of no small proportions. By January 1, 1960, less than half of Plymouth’s 4,100 dealers were franchised to sell the car. It wouldn’t be until 1961 that Valiant would become a Plymouth exclusive (in Canada it would remain a Chrysler Valiant, sold by both Plymouth and Dodge).
Valiant, along with Dodge’s restyled Dart, were both internal competition, stealing sales away from the big Plymouths.
Technically Valiant’s production of 194,292 cars should not have been counted with Plymouth’s total of 447,724—a combined total still only good enough for fourth place. Had Plymouth been left to stand alone, it would have been in ninth place, while Chevrolet and Ford both recorded sales of nearly one and a half million cars each. The Valiant will be covered later in its own chapter.
For those who had wondered what the ’60 Plymouth would look like without fins, ’61 was the answer to their question. They didn’t like the answer.
The automotive press hailed the car, calling it a much needed improvement and sleek. Consumers saw it otherwise, voting with their pocketbooks—for a new Ford or Chevrolet. To make matters worse, the ’61 Plymouth has consistently been voted to the top of every list of the “ugliest automobile ever built”—even members of the Plymouth Owners Club voted it number one of the “Worst Five Plymouths,” making comments such as “Exner gone berserk” and “remember laughing at this one in the showroom.” How bad was it? Sales slid to a dismal 350,285—putting Plymouth in seventh place for the year.
The first of the Chrysler brands to forsake flying tail fins, the car was designed around the concept of smoothly integrated curves sweeping from front to back. A single band of chrome originating inboard of the headlamps swept up and over the fender, along the length of the car, wrapping around the deck lid and continuing forward to the opposite side of the car. Exner loved heavily eye-browed lights, but this treatment gave them an odd look. The grille sloped inward as it fell to bumper height—the bumper smooth except for a series of raised ridges matching grille width.
At the rear, tail lamps tacked to the body side in their own little rocket pods looked for all the world like last minute add-ons. The pod was chromed on the Fury, body color on everything else. The car may have looked worlds apart from the ’60 but it was nothing more than a clever restyling—roof and door lines were unchanged although new fenders and quarter panels hid this fact.
Model lineup continued as per the previous year—Savoys in two- or four-door sedan, Belvederes in two door, four door, or two-door hardtop, Furys in four door, four-door hardtop, two-door hardtop, and convertible coupe. Wagon offerings again followed the familiar Deluxe, Custom, and Sport Suburban names.
Swivel front seats, which had been a novel item in the 1959 and 1960 Plymouths, had disappeared, replaced by the Command Seat which provided the driver with a higher backrest.
Engine choices ran the gamut from the 145-horsepower, 225-cubic-inch Slant Six to the base Fury V-800 230-horsepower 318 or the four-barrel Super Fury V-800 318 pumping out 260 horses. Both Golden Commandos, the 361-cubic-inch, 305-horsepower 395 and 383-cubic-inch, 330-horse, ram-induction SonoRamic Commando also returned.
Transmission choices were unchanged although a new “Heavy Duty Synchro-Silent” manual transmission was mandatory with the big Commando V8s. Adoption of an alternator, in place of generator, was the only major mechanical change for the year (the alternator had made its first appearance the year before on Valiants).
Plymouth’s dismal sales record was laid solely at the feet of one man—Virgil Exner. He had been praised to the heavens for his work just a few years earlier—now he was stripped of his vice presidency and booted out the door in the fall of ’61. Adding insult to injury was his replacement, Elwood Engle, brought over from Ford’s conservative styling staff.
Sales had continued to tumble with just 356,257 units built—a figure that was barely more than Plymouth’s 1935 production total. Plymouth's sale slide tumbled to seventh place—with worse yet to come.
Exner’s “Forward Look” cars had set automotive styling on its ear and brought competitors scrambling to catch up. True, his finned cars had stuck around too long, and his finless ’61 had become a laughingstock. Customers had already gotten a taste of his latest innovation, the “Forward Flair” long hood, short deck, flush C pillar with no belt line, close-coupled passenger compartment, speedboat windshield Valiant. But when those designs were applied to a full-size car, what would happen?
A series of events beyond Exner’s control would soon answer that question. Chrysler President William Newberg had barely taken office when he was caught in a hand-in-the cookie-jar scenario and forced to step down in favor of Lynn Townsend. But it was a cocktail party rumor that would spell doom for Exner at Chrysler. “The Rumor” was Chevrolet was going to downsize its cars. Clearly Chrysler couldn’t be caught with its pants down and not downsize, too—the rumor was only partially true. Both Chevrolet and Ford were planning downsized models—in this case the intermediate size Fairlane and Chevy II, not their full-size cars.
Exner’s proposed full-size car designs had the asymmetrical look from his XNR show car. Townsend took one look at these designs and ordered that everything be more conventional. Had Townsend not, the new Plymouth would have been more radical than they turned out to be, with an asymmetrical windsplit in front of the driver, only one taillight on the left, and two on the right. (These cars were on the drawing boards three years before they saw production; Exner was long gone when the ’62 made its debut.)
Plenty of midnight oil was burned by Chrysler stylists, attempting to rework designs for a 116-inch-wheelbase car, at minimal expense. Much was lost in the translation, many people perceiving the car to be nothing more than an overgrown Valiant. Nearly devoid of chrome trim and with an odd “big light-little light” split dual headlamp arrangement, the cars were so unusual looking as to be controversial.
When the car hits the street, the press hailed them as “unique” and “sophisticated.” Bill Burge, a long-time South Dakota dealer, came home from the dealer preview and told his wife, “We’re going to have to sit this year out—I can’t sell that car.” In a 100-car-per-year dealership, Burge sold just 11 cars!
Buyers voted with their pocketbooks. Ford sales increased 16%, but most of the gain went to Chevrolet, who sales rose 35%. Solidly rejected on a full-size car in 1962, the long hood, short deck—when applied to Ford’s sporty Mustang just two years later—would soon become common throughout the industry.
Savoys, Belvederes, and Furys came in the usual lineup, with either six-cylinder or V8 power (Fury four-door hardtop and convertible and Sport Furys mandated the V8). Station wagons joined their series by trim level, dropping unique names. The Sport Fury, both coupe and convertible, returned to the lineup in January featuring a special interior with bucket seats and console, partially blacked-out grille and two extra tail lamps.
Engines for ’62 included the 225 slant six (some were built with an aluminum block), two- and four-barrel 318s, and a four-barrel 361; gone was the long-ram 383, replaced mid-year by a short ram 413-cubic-inch monster (in 365, 380, and 410 horsepower) that would establish Plymouth as a force for years to come on the drag racing circuits.
Unseen—and unappreciated—was elimination of the sub-frame used since 1960, a move that reduced car weight by 200 pounds and provided as the same interior room as before, though exterior dimensions had been shorted by 7½ inches. A new aluminum-case TorqueFlite also aided interior space, while reducing overall weight by 60 pounds (total weight reduction came to over 400 pounds). Gone forever was the old two-speed PowerFlite. A new reduction gear starting motor gave all Chrysler products a distinct sound, if not better starting, and dash wiring now used printed circuit boards.
Sales of full-size cars came to just 182,520 units—only slightly better than the war shortened year of 1942. Worse yet, year-end sales slid another notch to eighth, a position Plymouth last held in 1930.
With sales at an all-time low and 1963 just around the corner, there was little time to design—nor any money to build—an all-new car. The only solution would be to redesign as much sheet metal using the basic ’62 body as could be done. A new front-end design had already been done to be mated to the ’63 body (which made it to production pretty much intact). Additional money was appropriated to change the entire exterior appearance. Everything that could be done to make the car look longer was done. Three of the four series featured full-length front-to-rear body side moldings—in bright metal on the Belvedere, paint filled on Fury, and with an engine-turned insert on the Sport Fury.
Length was increased by three inches although wheelbase remained at 116 inches. The belt line kick-up was eliminated, to aid the look of length. Front-end design featured vertical park and turn lights at the widest edge of the fender, slightly canted inward from the top. Inside of this sat dual headlamps against a full-width grille. At the rear shield-shaped taillights with gun-sight trim sat on either side as far apart as possible.
All models had a horizontal stainless molding across the deck lid, Fury and Sport Furys featuring an additional ribbed horizontal stainless-steel panel between the tail lamps. Widely spaced letters on both hood and deck lid aided the horizontal illusion—the cars were still nearly 4½ inches narrower than 1961. Sedans and hardtops shared a vertical backlight with wide C pillar. The cowl, one of the most expensive items on any car, had to be retained. Exner’s speedboat windshield was the only obvious clue to the ’63’s origins.
Engine choices remained pretty much the same as ’62, the Slant Six, 318, 361, and 383 unchanged—until one reached into Plymouth’s racing parts bins. New for the year was a 426-cubic wedge engine available in 370, 375, 415, or 425-horsepower configurations. The 370 featured a single four-barrel carburetor and 11:1 compression, the 375 13.5:1. Both the 415 and 425-horse versions used two four-barrels on a short-ram manifold, the difference in horsepower coming through 11 or 13.5 compression ratios.
While most racers preferred TorqueFlite, a four-speed, Hurst-shifted manual transmission built by Borg-Warner entered the option list.
Buyers again had the choice of the bottom line Savoy, in two door, four door, or six- and nine-passenger wagon, the Belvedere adding a two-door hardtop to the same list. The Fury added a convertible and as in years past Sport Furys could be had in hardtop or convertible form.
Sales rose to 263,342 full-size cars (with an additional 225,156 Valiants), enough to pull Plymouth up to fifth place from its dismal 1962 showing.
1964 would see the final incarnation of the three-year body cycle, with another remake of the ill-fated ’62. Chrysler stylists under Elwood Engle had done a terrific job of hiding the ’62 in the ’63; with a little more lead time, the ’64 would move even further down the evolutionary track. Sheet metal remained identical to the ’63 from the doors on back, except for a widening at the rear to accommodate a 2.1-inch wider rear axle.
While the ’63 had been stuck with Exner’s speedboat cowl, this, too, had gone by the wayside. Missing, too, were the canted park lamps on the end of the front fenders, replaced now by a peak that stuck out just enough to be targets for those who parked by braille.
A convex grille with a distinct peak about a third of the way from the top neatly matched the center line of the fender peaks. Nestled in the grille were quad headlamps; running down the side was a crease that began at the front fenders and ran the entire length of the body—the forward edge of the crease giving just a hint to another of Exner’s favorite styling tricks—the hair pin. Wider taillights, accented by a rear grille stainless panel on the Fury, gave the car an entirely different look than ’63.
Hardtop and pillared sedans still carried the heavy, Thunderbird-inspired C pillar roof—two-door hardtops, however, were another story. A distinctive, triangular C pillar, with convertible-top crease in the roof panel, along with a curved backlight, gave the car a more streamlined appearance—and made it slipperier on NASCAR speedways.
It was here that Plymouth’s newest engine was right at home—in fact, it was the only place it was at home, for Plymouth had resurrected a Chrysler engine it had never used—the hemispherical combustion chamber, 426-cubic-inch Hemi.
Available only to well-connected race drivers, the Hemi pumped out 415 horsepower with an 11.1 compression ratio—425 horses at 12.5, both engines running twin four-barrel carburetors. Official Plymouth engineering sheets show the Hemi available in either Belvedere, Fury, or Sport Fury bodies, but it is doubtful if anything other than a Belvedere ever carried the engine. At the running of the 1964 Daytona 500, the new Hemi led a three-car sweep of first, second, and third place, with “King” Richard Petty at the wheel of the winning car.
Three other 426-cubic-inch engines did see street use—all wedge engines of 365 horsepower (fed by a single four-barrel carb), or the Stage III Max Wedge 415 (11.1 compression) or 425 horsepower (12.5 compression) with dual fours on a short-ram manifold and mind-blowing set of snake-pit exhaust headers. The majority of Plymouth buyers choose the 145-horsepower Slant Six or 230-horse 318 V8. For those whose needs fit somewhere in between, the 265-horse 361 and 330-horse 383 were also cataloged. As the model year came to a close, Chrysler Corporation bade farewell to its typewriter transmission controls. Harking back to 1956, the push buttons had been a love-it-or-hate-it affair. The most plausible explanation for discontinued the push buttons came from those following the Washington safety czars who were demanding controls be standardized between makes. Although no official edict came down regarding the pushbuttons, they would be missing from the ’65 models.
Body style and model names were unchanged from the previous two years. Both Savoy station wagons, six- and nine-passenger, could be had with either six or eight cylinders, but the Belvedere and Fury wagons, along with the Fury four-door hardtop and convertible—as well as the two Sport Furys—mandated the V8.
Full-size car sales came to 297,293 units, enough to move Plymouth up one notch to fourth for the model run.
If the ’62 Plymouth had been considered radical, Elwood Engle’s clean-sheet-of-paper design for 1965 could only be labeled “conservative.” Engle, who had penned the neoclassic 1961 Lincoln Continental, preferred straight lines, and that is just what he ordered for the new Plymouths.
Gone were all visages of the ’62 disaster, as Plymouth returned to the big time in vehicle size. The front featured a fine-mesh grille flanked by vertical headlights—a styling gimmick introduced some years earlier by Pontiac. The rear featured a triple light per side that also came from GM design—Chrysler styling had been a leader in ’57; its second attempt at styling leadership in ’62 had been a disaster, and for ’65 it would be content to be a follower. Regardless of where the styling cues came from, the new Plymouth was a most attractive automobile.
The wheelbase was stretched by three inches, bringing the car up to full-size standards against the competition. Slab sides were broken by two full-length body creases evenly spaced between the belt line and rocker panel, adding even more visual length to the car. Front fenders canted forward into the wind while the rear of the car featured a reverse angle crease from side to side.
Each model was now dubbed “Fury,” as the name became even more diluted. At the bottom of the rung was the rather Spartan Fury I which took the place of the Savoy—except in Canada where the Savoy name would live on. Replacing the Belvedere—at least in name only—was the Fury II. What had previously been the Fury line now became the Fury III. Sport Fury would still mean the top-of-the-line, performance-oriented hardtop or convertible, available only with V8 power, fitted with bucket seats, console, and special trim.
Designated the C body, it would share its underpinnings with both Dodge and Chrysler, although they would each have separate, longer wheelbases. As had been done in years past, all station wagons, whether Plymouth, Dodge, or Chrysler, shared the same body on a 121-inch wheelbase.
The old B body, dating back to 1962, had not, however, fallen by the wayside. In answer to Chevrolet and Ford’s compact, intermediate and full-size (Corvair/Falcon, Chevelle/Fairlane, Impala/Galaxie) cars, Plymouth’s B body received a new front end and became the intermediate-series Belvedere. Like the big car, all models were called Belvedere—as in Belvedere I and Belvedere II. Instead of a Belvedere III at the top of the line, a new name—Satellite—entered the picture. Styling of the Belvedere series was a scaled-down version of the big car, with fine-mesh grille and canted fenders but here the similarity ended, as the Belvedere would use single headlamps, rather than duals like the big car.
Engine availability was little changed, with the exception of the 273 V8 in the Belvedere line. Introduced the year before in the Valiant, the 273 was not available in the big Fury and both cars differed in their next option choice—Belvedere using the B block 361—big Furys the B block 383. Fury III wagons and the Sport Furys mandated V8 power, but the Belvedere II’s convertible could be had with a six—the first six-banger convertible since 1954. The 426-cubic wedge could be had in either Belvedere or Fury line.
Chosen this year to provide the pace car for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, a first for Plymouth, advertising made a lot of noise that “You can buy one just like it,” or at least buy the same power and drivetrain. Powered by a 383 V8, ads hinted it was a 426 wedge, reading “it has power to spare in its optional four-barrel Commando 426-cubic-inch V8 engine.” Painted white with blue interior (it’s claimed the actual pace car had a burnt orange interior), records were not kept as to how many of the 6,272 Sport Fury convertibles were built as Pace Car replicas, if indeed any were.
Sales of 489,485 intermediate and full-size cars showed Plymouth’s conservative styling was what buyers wanted. Still, even with Valiant’s total production, Plymouth still couldn’t knock Pontiac out of third place.
This book is reprinted with the permission and cooperation of Jim Benjaminson, who holds the copyright to the text and to his photos. Also see his book Plymouth 1946-1959.
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